Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall Musings October 21, 2014

Join me and other educator-writers slicing on Tuesdays at the Twowritingteachers website.

Today I am submitting a couple of poems written last week. The first, Idle Autumn, I wrote drafts of with my class while we sat outside on a warm autumn afternoon writing about fall. It went through several revisions and was completed on a plane ride to a wedding in South Carolina. The second, Cirrus Mist, was inspired by watching the sun rise on that same plane flight. I think they could both use some work, but I like them well enough for now. Cheers!

Idle Autumn
I may not cut the grass again
Although it’s predominantly green.
The garden’s skeletal stalks droop
After the best harvest I’ve ever seen.

Leaves garnish the tress in the yard
But enough swirl around to rake.
What chores remain outstanding

At winter’s first snowflake?

Cirrus Mist
The cirrus mist at 36,000 feet
Glows red
Then orange
Inviting me to drag my feet
And create swirling eddies as we pass by.

The grid of squares and circles far below
Is a patchwork quilt of muted color,
Waiting for the sun
To break the fall chill.

Sunlight streams through the window
Warming my chest.

Taken from my seat on the plane!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Slice of Life - Too Much Water!

It all came back to too much water. As I lay in my sleeping bag, half-asleep and cozy against the elements, I knew I would be getting up soon. I sneak a peak at my watch, the Indiglo bright searing my squinting eyes just long enough to see it was 2:58. I rolled over again and tried to will my bladder and my brain back to sleep.

As my I continued to awaken, despite my best attempts to the contrary, I thought of all the reasons not to get up.
  • It’s cold out there.
  • The zippers of my tent might wake everyone up.
  • I will have to find my clothes in the dark or turn on my headlamp.
  • There might be scorpions in my boots. 

Scorpions! For as long as I could remember, I had heard about shaking out boots in scorpion country so the little critters would not sting the five-headed monster of a foot entering the new cave they had claimed. Well Goblin Valley State Park in Utah is the desert and scorpions do live here. Had I even remembered to tell my students about shaking their boots out? An old Far Side cartoon flashes into my brain.

I don’t even know what my middle-of-the-night reaction would be to a scorpion in my boot at 2:58 in the morning. Would I scream? Would I be a “good” enough person not to smash it with the boot, honoring Nature’s creatures and all that? Or are those sentiments only reserved for daylight hours?

Too Much Water! That was the problem. Not enough and then definitely too much. With the business of managing twenty-two 10-13 year-olds during the day I had not taken care of myself by drinking copious amounts of water. Then, to relieve the “you’re getting dehydrated” headache after dinner, I had drunk two liters during the last two hours I was awake. I even knew at the time I was going to be getting up in the middle of the night. Heck, at this point in my life, I usually get up at least once anyway, why even worry about how much water I drank?

Another green flash from my watch. 3:04! Not even ten minutes have passed? I was secretly hoped this inner monologue had happened around some dreams and it would be closer to 6:00.

Fine! I’m getting up! Long-sleeve shirt and jacket first, followed by a blast of cold air as I unzip my bag and hurry into pants and synthetic wool socks. I try to quietly unzip my tent, slowly and quietly but my body is telling me now is the time to move a little quicker.

The moment of truth is upon me. I fumble for my headlamp, place it on my head, and squint while my eyes try to mange the bazillion-watt halogen brightness filling my vision. Once I no longer see pure white, I grasp each hiking boot by the toe and vigorously tap the heels against the ground. Carefully I hold them upside down expecting nothing to fall out in reality, but ready just in case because reality doesn’t always matter when it’s dark.

Nothing. I slip into my boots and loosely tie up the laces. As I trudge towards the bathroom in the campground, my headlamp lights up the inches of drying mud everywhere. While it's wet enough that my feet sink an inch or two, it dry enough that it does not squish or splash. However, the low areas where the water collects are quagmires that have already claimed five shoes from my students, who tend not to lace their shoes anyway. I hop across several strategically placed rocks and reach the pavement and begin my walk to the bathroom.

Too much water is the issue. Not only for me but also for this trip. Two days ago, thunderstorms had brought over an inch of rain to this valley that only receives eight inches of rain a year. Yesterday brought a little more and the dry forecast from last week was obviously being revised. Flash flooding had closed roads and made us change our plans on the fly. Instead of climbing through slot canyons, we had gone to Capitol Reef National Park, because a slot canyon, downstream of a thunderstorm, is a very bad place to be. The kids had been great with the changes, the rain and the mud and we had some opportunities to talk about how desert life adapts to life with almost no water and then too much water.

I reach the bathrooms and step inside…SPLASH! The motion-sensing light switch activates and as the fluorescent bulbs blink on. I hear water splashing and am glad that my boots are waterproof as I find myself standing in over and inch of water. Too Much Water! The urinal is running non-stop and overflowing and the drain is in the highest part of the floor and only just starting to capture a trickle of the flood.

First things first. I wade through to the stall and take care of business for myself. Then I start jimmying the urinal handle, hoping that will cease the deluge. No luck. I walk outside and try the service door, knowing it will be locked but imagining that I could turn off the water valve from inside. Locked. Splash back into the bathroom and flip the lever up and down some more in helpless desperation. Nothing. Outside is a signboard about the campground and I hope to find a map to the campground host or a phone number to call. Nothing but a couple of old announcements and a flyer about a few of the animals in the park, including a picture of the desert scorpion. No warning about checking boots though and I wonder briefly if that is negligent of them or if scorpions are just not an issue in the campground.

I’m about to give up and I feel like a not-perfect person for being ready to just go back to my tent and going back to sleep. I’m usually a pretty good problem solver but this seems beyond my abilities and resources for this time of night.

I go back to the bathroom and it’s clear something is different. No running water noise. My boots send ripples across the bathroom and I see that the urinal has stopped. I also notice another drain in the floor, slowly gulping down the water.

Having no idea what I did, or if I actually did anything, I give myself an imaginary pat on the back anyway and head back to the campsite, feeling a bit like a superhero. I feel that way about teaching sometimes time too. Due to unexpected reasons, I’m in the right place at the right time, doing my best but sometimes just flailing away, not really knowing if I’m making a difference. Then after stepping away, I come back and a student has taken their next step, is no longer “drowning” and the sun emerges.

For me though, it’s only 3:16am. Time to catch a few more Z’s and hope the sun does come out in the morning.

The school bus and a very muddy campground as the sun works its magic on the clouds

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Questions to start the year

As the school year starts again, I am restarting my blog and sharing it at TwoWritingTeachers on Tuesdays. I look forward to sharing with others and reading what they have to share. Cheers and good luck this school year!

Student Questions at the start of the year!

Each summer, I ask the students in my class to write me a letter before the school year begins, so I can get to know them better. I asked them to ask me a question that they were wondering about. My class has twenty-three students, ages almost eleven to almost fourteen. Below are the answers to their questions, although I did not always include the questions and leave that up to you, the reader, to imagine. You may notice that there are not twenty-three answers since not all of them included a question in their letter to me.

1. Once on an overnight trip with my class we were staying in cabins with three sets of bunk beds. My cabin had five other students to start the night and only four when I woke up. Two students, staying an another cabin, had snuck in and "stolen" the missing student in the middle of the night to prove that they could do it without waking me up. They even had a picture to prove it (taken by my assistant at the time who helped them). I had to laugh at it and they were so proud of their "ninja skills."

2. She is obviously an incredible performer and has a great voice. I'm impressed with how she crosses over from country music to pop and respect her like I would respect anyone who is at the top of their field. I believe she gets back at old boyfriends by writing songs about them but that might be another singer I've heard about. I could not name one of her songs but I'm sure I could sing along to them if they were playing at the time. So…I'm not a big fan in terms of just loving her music, but I think she's a great singer performer.

3. I would chose to be Dean Moriarty from On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  He is bold, brash, passionate, adventurous, and drinks deeply from each moment in ways that I don't allow myself to in my own responsible life. I'm not willing to give up what I have to live that way, but the idea of grabbing life by the horns in each moment is inspirational to me.

4. I think the best high school for you would be either Kent, East or Regis. It will come down to which school feels most respectful to you as a student and the soccer coach you want to play for.

5. Blue

6. As you know, I climb 14ers here in Colorado, and I have been climbing them since I was five. Until I was in my late teens, I often got very altitude sick and I had some miserable moments on climbs trying to get to the top of a peak with my dad and little brother. I always enjoyed the views, the accomplishment of getting to the top and the joy of being outside, but on some days it was hard to keep going. While an argument could be made that my dad pushed too far on occasion, he always did it with encouragement and help, never with anger. And I learned that I can climb the peaks in my life if I just keep going. That inner knowledge has given me strength whether I'm actually doing a physical activity or dealing with a really tough patch in my personal life. I can ask for help, rely on others and take breaks along the way. Now that I have experience with making it to tough goals, I can help sympathize better with others struggling towards their personal peaks and often help them in their quests. I also learned when to turn back and try again another day. One last thing I learned was that sometimes, it gets easier when you grow up because while I do get some minor discomfort climbing peaks these days, it is nothing like what I used to go through.

7. I am going to always ask you if what you turned in is your best work. I will help you plan your time and I will tell you when you are just getting work done instead of aiming for the sky. I will listen to you when you have ideas and work with you to create projects you are excited about and ones that challenge you to try new things. Lastly, after making sure you have what you need, I'll give you time and space to find your own way and only give you help or suggestions when you ask for it. And actually lastly, I will be excited about your work and love you for who you are.

8. Dark chocolate without question. And this summer I drove to Washington D.C. with my family, caught some fish, played disc golf, climbed a few 14ers, and worked in the classroom.

9.  I prefer to dip them in milk and then eat them. Occasionally I will twist them open and eat the cookie top in milk and then the frosting/bottom part by itself. Or, I use them as a spoon for ice cream. I have climbed 29/54 14ers in Colorado. That would be too many to name but it includes most of them along the front range, many in the San Juans and the Sawatch, and a few in the Sangre de Cristos and Elks. My favorite so far is Sunlight.

10. I have so many embarrassing stories I can't even choose the worst one. Once, when I was in another town for a wedding, I got onto a hotel elevator with several other people who were all dressed up. Trying to be friendly, I said, "Are you all here for a wedding too?" "No, a funeral," was the reply as the elevator doors closed.  During the awkward silence I pushed the button for the third floor and said, "I'm sorry for your loss," as I exited.

11. The Colorado Rockies…even this year.

12. The classiest sport I do is probably fly fishing.

13. My moms are teachers and my dad is a snowboard/ski instructor. Some of my jobs during breaks during college included being a kids ski school instructor and a fly fishing guide. Early in my adult life I experienced teaching in different ways and enjoyed it. I do love kids, but mostly I love helping and coaching people learn new things and watching them light up as they discover new information, questions and talents. It is a job about connecting with people, not just passing along information.

14. We are going to camp in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah for four nights and then stay in Glenwood Springs the last night on the way home. It will be a great trip to start our school year!

15. I have climbed 29/54 14ers in Colorado. That would be too many to name but it includes most of them along the front range, many in the San Juans and the Sawatch, and a few in the Sangre de Cristos and Elks. My favorite so far is Sunlight.

16. Because Kam thought of it and we started coming up with so many ideas and connections that Limits seemed like a great class unit.

17. The biggest difference will be the freedom you have and the responsibilities that come with it. The responsibilities include a higher quality and larger amount of work, being a great role model for the younger students in the school, being more independent, advocating for yourself, and taking charge of your own education. The freedoms will include more places you can go in school, more independence on trips, choosing

18. She does get mad but since she's from Minnesota, it only comes across as annoyed. Actually, she has wonderful control of her emotions but she does get frustrated. I have not seen her be crazy wild mad though and I think that's a good thing.

19. This will be my seventeenth year teaching. I taught nine years of high school science and am entering my eighth year as a teacher here. Other teaching experience included being a ski instructor for parts of three winters at Keystone Ski School and a fly fishing guide for three summers.

Those are the answers to the questions on my student's minds as we enter this next school year.

I wonder what unexpected magic will come our way?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Spoken Word Poem - "IT Stops With Me" - May 30, 2014

The last language arts assignment with my class was a spoken word poem. We had a great day sharing our poems Friday. We got coffee, sat outside in a park and performed them. I was so impressed by my students. I also performed my poem for them. I wrote it Thursday night and have uploaded it to youtube (see below).

IT Stops With Me - By Max Maclay

I read the news today
Oh Boy
Another school shooter, more kids dead
Another nut with guns and hate in his head.
I cry for the kids, their parents and for me
I cry for the nut
who could not
would not
just be happy.

Why? I want to know. How could a man, devise this plan, take guns in his hand, take an evil stand and

I want to blame the guns!
Somehow that’s not PC?
Because our Constitution says we all need a little revolution
To avoid a final solution, of governmental pollution
We create our own absolution!
From sea to shining sea.

But that gunsight I look down, might show you
Pointing your scope back at me.

I want to blame his parents
Did they love him as much as mine lived me?
Did they tuck him in tight, patch him up after a fight
Give monsters a fright, use a night light,
They can’t have done it Right!
Because this boy’s a blight
And I’m frightened,
Even though I never met him
And he’s dead too.

Will it happen again?


Can IT be stopped?

What is IT?


The pain of being helpless
The sorrow of betrayal
The mood after being hit

IT is that feeling.
That dark, empty feeling,
IT hurts so bad anything can fill the void.
And it feels so good to pass it along, to share the pain, make others feel it too.

IT passes from person to person,
Gaining strength, and power and rage
Until it rests on a trigger

IT must be stopped.

A car speeds down the road,
A hulk of metal and rubber and power
There are kids crossing the street to school
And a crossing guard.
The car stops.
It’s power and energy and road rage

I will be a trigger guard
Life will hurt.
Others will throw their hurt towards me
And I will NOT PASS IT ON!

Fear, anxiety and hate
Stop at the trigger guard.
The bad mood, ugly energy, evil mojo
Stopped by the trigger guard.

I will pass on a stupid pun,
A compliment
A fist bump
A smile, A Hug
Joy, Hope, Love

IT stops with me

What if you also said,
IT stops with me?
What if you also said,
IT stops with me?
What if she said it, and he said it, and they said it?
IT stops with me
Then maybe,
Just maybe,

And something else will BEGIN.